Cuomo reopens horse racing tracks, Watkins Glen without fans

May 17, 2020

New York state will allow horse racing tracks and Watkins Glen International to reopen — without fans — starting June 1, marking another step toward revitalizing the state’s economies in regions that were previously unsure if those venues would reopen this year.

Without fans, the regions will forego the usual boost in revenue they receive from large gatherings for racing, but televised events will still bring in some money.

“If you can have economic activity without a crowd, that’s great,” Cuomo said. “For the industry itself, for the televised viewers, that can still work.”

The state is expected to issue guidance sometime in the coming week as to how employees at race tracks should handle themselves to operate safety, Cuomo said.

Horse racing tracks allowed to reopen include Saratoga Raceway, Saratoga Race Course, Monticello Raceway, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs, Batavia Downs, Belmont Park, Buffalo Raceway, Finger Lakes Racetrack, Aqueduct Racetrack, and Yonkers Raceway.

The reopening is expected to help bolster the finances of regional economies, which could receive a significant cut from the state in the coming weeks.

Watkins Glen International has been reopened.
Credit Watkins Glen International

New York state is projecting a $13 billion revenue loss over the next fiscal year due to COVID-19. That’s on top of the state’s direct spending in response to the pandemic, which has topped $3 billion since the beginning of March.

The U.S. House approved legislation Friday that would provide an additional $500 billion to states to aid their response fo COVID-19. It would also repeal a cap on state and local tax deductions for states most affected by the disease, like New York.

Cuomo called on the U.S. Senate to take up the measure, which he called a “smart bill,” though the upper house isn’t expected to approve it as written.

“If Washington does not make up that shortfall there will be cuts,” Cuomo said. “I’ve made it clear how important it is. I’ve made it clear what will happen to the state budget if they don’t pass that bill.”

The state Division of Budget has projected that state funding for schools, local governments, and hospitals could be cut as much as 20% without additional aid from the federal government. Those cuts are expected to be decided in the next two weeks.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, has been reluctant to provide aid directly to state governments, saying it would amount to a “blue state bailout” for states like New York.

Cuomo said Saturday that, if federal lawmakers provide funding for New York state later this year, the cuts he’s expected to announce this month could be restored.